The meaning of physical fitness varies with age, gender, and wellness—as well as with athletic and career goals. Very generally, there are universal fitness criteria: muscular strength, aerobic endurance, flexibility, and balance. There are countless ways to fulfill these criteria. Many exercises and exercise programs combine more than one, or even all, of these. Some exercises also increase anaerobic endurance (ability to do very intense short-duration physical activity); some exercises increase coordination, which involves muscular strength and improved brain-muscle interaction. Some exercises seem to be better-suited for women or men, though it is debatable whether this is because of societal conditioning or actual physical difference. Common barriers to physical fitness are discomfort, injury, real or perceived lack of time or energy, and a sense that working out is an inherently self-centered activity.
To achieve basic fitness, one needs to do at least a little work in each basic fitness area. Always start a workout with a few minutes of an easy aerobic motion to warm up, and end with a few stretching movements for muscles used during the workout. (Stretching the neck muscles is a great way to relieve stress-related tension, by the way, too.) For strength, do at least 12 reps of weight or resistance training for each muscle group twice a week. For a more efficient aerobic workout, use interval training: for 15 minutes, switch between 1 minute of high intensity activity, such as jogging on a sharp incline, and 2 minutes of low intensity activity, such as walking on level surface (WebMD 2017). The post-workout stretch will increase flexibility. Since balance and coordination partly involve muscular strength, any exercise applies to them. However, balance can be targeted by holding positions, such as standing on one leg. Most sports and dances target coordination, so, for many exercisers, coordination training may be the most fun.
While women and men may be drawn to different types of exercise, there is little definitive proof that they have substantially different exercise needs. Women tend to have more flexibility and better lower body strength, whereas men tend to have more upper body strength. This could be partly because men tend to put special effort into lifting more weight, at the expense of other forms of exercise. While it appears that hormones may play some role, both genders should try to work on all areas of fitness (Sorgen 2004).
Fitness goals may diminish with advanced age; however, fitness actually is more important than ever as a person gets older. Age-related muscle loss leads to a slowed metabolism and weight gain (WebMD 2017), which increases risk of cardiovascular disease and makes any future exercise endeavors increasingly difficult. So, it is important that older exercisers keep doing what they can.
Feelings of overwhelm or guilt may keep people, especially women, from exercising enough to maintain basic physical fitness. People will say, “I’d like to go to the gym, but it always seems like everyone else there is so hardcore.” In fact, if you enlist the help of a trainer, they will understand beginners’ needs. One serious benefit of a trainer is that they will keep you from injuring yourself; gyms see an upsurge in membership after New Year’s, but then quickly lose many: “I tried to get in shape, but I injured by back [etc.] and I really can’t do it.” That said, if a trainer sounds like too much, try to do a few minutes of light exercise in front of the TV or with music playing at home. One thing to keep in mind is that any exercise skills you gain, you can share with those you care about—exercise is not so selfish, after all.
Sorgen, Carol. “His and Hers Fitness.” Fitness and Exercise. Feature Stories. WebMD. 2004. (Accessed 7 August 2017). http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/his-hers-fitness#4.
WebMD. Fitness and Exercise. Guide. (Accessed 7 August 2017). <http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/default.htm